ColumnsNaming Grace

The look of love: fourth Sunday of Lent

On my very first day as campus minister for Columbus Catholic High School, a kind and beloved priest entered my office. I set my pen down and rose to greet him. I suspected Msgr. Paul Steimel was visiting to give instructions on organizing an all-school Mass or designing a prayer service for teens. Instead, I received a profound life lesson. Msgr. Steimel sat down and gently shared his wisdom: “Mary, you never need to judge a student. All you have to do is love them, and God will do the rest. Only God can change the human heart.”

These words changed me—and my ministry. Though I was to guide these young men and women, I was not to be in the business of judging or condemning. I was freed from tracking students to discover who was drinking, skipping school, failing classes or anything else. I had only to “see” each student with God’s look of love.

This Sunday’s Gospel reveals God’s incomparable love for us: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so everyone who believes in him might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” As Jesus hung from the cross, he gave humanity the ultimate look of love—salvation. Though betrayed, beaten, battered and nailed to a tree, there was no condemnation, hatred, bitterness, blame or resentment in his eyes. Instead, he drew the entire world to himself through his look of love.

As parents and grandparents, we name grace—God’s loving presence—each time we look at our children with love, whether gazing upon our adorable newborn or disciplining our disobedient teenager. We bring our children to Jesus as we reveal, in word and action, that God loves them to the point of death—death on a cross. Like Jesus, we never condemn our children—no matter what.

Msgr. Steimel’s words proved true. When I approached a troubled student with love, she would eventually make her way into my office “just to talk.” As she grew in trust of my love, she willingly drew closer to the light. I recall a few times, God forgive, when judgment crossed my eyes. In just one look, I revealed condemnation. Sadly, these students avoided me in the hallways and refused to darken my door.

It is never ours to judge or condemn—only to love; God never condemns, though we condemn ourselves through unbelief. The students drawn to darkness were mostly hungry for love and acceptance—just like each of us. When looked at with condemnation, they were driven further into darkness. When looked at with love, their hearts melted as they began to see their own beauty, goodness and worth as beloved children of God.

We have been saved by grace, and we graciously extend the same invitation to every single person we encounter through Jesus’ look of love—no matter how angry, hard-hearted, ungrateful, resentful or prideful. This week, when raising your heart to receive Jesus in the Eucharist or to adore him in adoration, be prepared to have your heart changed as you receive his infinite and eternal look of love. Now, that’s good news!

How can you guard against judging another person?

How will you teach your child about God’s unconditional love?

Naming Grace in the Domestic Church reflects on the Sunday readings through the lens of a parent/grandparent, aiding parents in their vital task as “first preachers” of the good news in the domestic church—the church of the home